You know what I love? Passion. When you can tell someone is giving their very best, paying attention to the tiniest detail, and continuously striving to become better. It is not as common as it should be, and seeing it in practice can stop you in your tracks.
Chef Tony Tayoto is one of those people, and the things he can create in his rolling galley will rival anything you can eat on dry land.
(Click here if you don’t see the slideshow below.)
On the M/S Expedition, Chef Tony and his team prepare 3 meals a day plus snacks and desserts for 50+ crew members and 120+ passengers. There are no rubbery chicken breasts, tasteless soups or the bland salads you would expect from feeding a group this size, and the dishes are delicious as well as beautiful.
Part of the reason is that Chef Tony’s background is in hotel fine dining, not buffet service, and he has worked in some really swanky places around the world. He can even tell you what the Queen of England likes to eat.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that we are arriving in the UK just in time for the royal wedding and reception?
The other part of the reason is that Chef Tony loves what he does, takes pride in his original recipes, and it gives him pleasure to prepare good for people. The magic is in the details – homemade stocks and breads, fresh fruits and vegetables, and the best spices.
Chef knows a little bit about everything, I’m convinced. It takes a while for him to open up, but once he does you discover that this quiet man has lived quite an extraordinary life. This is a guy who took a job as a chef in Baghdad and still raves about the open-air market there. Any place you mention, he’s been there and knows something about the food and the culture.
(Even though Chef is reserved, he still has a wicked sense of humor. Check out his “King of the World” parody on the music video Warren made.)
Chef’s team cooks two different menus each day, one for the passengers and officers and one for the crew. Because the crew is mainly Filipino, he is able to cater to their likes every day. More than one crew member told us the food he makes eases their homesickness. We tried several of these dishes ourselves, including pancit and kare kare and a delicious juice made from melons and milk.
What really amazes me about Chef Tony’s work, however, is how prepared he has to be to cook for all these people for up to 2 weeks at a time. There are no places to stop for fresh ingredients in Antarctica. Add to that a moving kitchen, and you can see that it takes a little bit of magic to make it all work.
I asked how he keeps his fruits and vegetables fresh for so long, and he said it is a series of refrigeration levels. He wouldn’t tell me more because that is part of his secret.
Chef has a galley crew of really talented people, including Elmirante the baker, Ernesto the salad artist, and the rest of the galley team who help cook food for the passengers and crew. When someone is interested in learning more, he shows them. For instance, Sam who works in the galley is now training with Elmirante to become a baker. Tony may keep his recipes away from us, but he is generous with his team allows them to learn new skills in his kitchen if they want.
This is yet another reason why we like him so much. Chef Tony serves the passengers better food than they would expect for traveling to such a remote region, and he also takes care of the crew and officers by cooking food that reminds them of home. He also helps them advance in their careers by learning new skills.
With his experience he could easily phone it in, delivery pretty good food in less time than it takes him now, and cover the nutritional requirements of the crew without having to create new recipes from other countries.
But he goes the extra mile because he loves what he does, sees the impact his work makes on the people around him, and is constantly looking for ways to improve his craft.
He has made our bodies a little bit fatter and our hearts a little bit bigger over these last five weeks on the ship, and we are more than a little sad to be leaving in just a few days. Chef Tony is a little shy and we feel like he’s just starting to open up to us before we leave.
Maybe this means we’ll have to come back for an Arctic cruise. After we buy some bigger clothes, that is.